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The Spitalfields Nativity Procession

December 20, 2023
by the gentle author

If you fancy a bracing walk as a respite from the forthcoming festivities, tickets are available for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on New Year’s Day.


Click here to order a signed copy of The Gentle Author’s new book ON CHRISTMAS DAY for £10


Click here to buy GIFT VOUCHERS for The Gentle Author’s Tours – the ideal present for friends and family – and I will send a handwritten greetings card to the recipients

There was no doubt whatsoever that the Christmas season had arrived in Spitalfields when Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined a procession of characters from the nativity story advancing up Brick Lane accompanied by all the pupils of Christ Church School singing carols.

We arrived at the school just as the final preparations were taking place. In the hallway, school governors, members of the parent-teachers’ association and any other adults that could be recruited were changing into colourful biblical costumes. They were joined by the pupils, some of whom had been assigned specific roles in the drama and other who had opted for generic nativity outfits. Once we were all gathered in the yard at the front of the school, there was just time for a group photo before the unlikely procession set off up Brick Lane, singing carols enthusiastically to dispel the grim atmosphere of damp and cold.

The curry touts were astonished by this unexpected demonstration of seasonal goodwill and resisted their natural impulse to offer meal deals and free beers to Mary & Joseph, on the their way to Bethlehem via Brick Lane. In fact, the first destination was the Spitalfields City Farm where the holy couple were to acquire a donkey for Mary to ride on their journey. Although legend has it that farm animals gain the power of speech on Christmas Eve, the pig at the City Farm grew impatient and joined in loudly with the carol-singing, much to the delight of the school children.

After readings telling the nativity story and more carols, and once Mary had put on her safety helmet and was securely mounted upon Bayleaf the donkey, we were all set to continue on our Christmas pilgrimage around Spitalfields. The attenuated procession stretched the length of Allen Gardens, offering great amusement to passengers on the East London Line gawping in delight from the train windows as they sped by.

We crossed Brick Lane again and followed the perimeter wall of the Truman Brewery to emerge onto Commercial St. Passing along the side of Spitalfields Market down Lamb St, the procession entered Bishop’s Sq just as it was thronging with office workers at lunchtime. The line of singing children led by a donkey invaded the adult workaday world, as harbingers of the approaching festive season – they had come to remind everyone that very soon everything must stop for Christmas.

The procession assembles at Christ Church School

Advancing up Brick Lane

Arriving at the Spitalfields City Farm

Jasmin as Mary, with Mhairi from Spitalfields City Farm and Bayleaf the donkey

Mary-Jane played the drum with Eleanor on accordion

Hamza, Josh and Kevin as the three kings

Setting out from the farm

Joseph & Mary advancing along Buxton St

Janzaib as the angel

Photographs copyright © Estate of Colin O’Brien

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. December 20, 2023

    Schools are lovely places to be at Christmas time. The children of all ages are happy and excited because it marks the end of a very long term, no matter what faith you adhere to. I have been visiting secondary schools over the last three weeks and you can see in the faces of the children and their teachers, how tired they all are.

    How lovely to have a public celebration that involves everyone, even passers by! Well done to the teachers, parents and children. A joyful collection of photographs and story.

  2. Elaine Graybill permalink
    December 20, 2023

    This is so wonderful and beautiful. Thank you, and wishes for a happy Christmas.

  3. December 20, 2023

    The children take this procession very seriously and have a lot of fun. The angel is very expressive!

    *** MERRY CHRISTMAS! ***
    *** JOYEUX NOËL! ***

    Love & Peace

  4. Winnie permalink
    December 20, 2023

    These pictures are adorable. By the time I had scrolled through I had tears running down my face. It has lifted me out if my gloom. Thank you for this joy full post .

  5. Andy permalink
    December 20, 2023

    Great blog today

  6. Cherub permalink
    December 20, 2023

    What a lovely Christmas spectacle, they all look so happy. The Three Wise Men are regal, the angel is adorable and Bayleaf the gentle donkey is just gorgeous. These children will have such nice memories of this little parade.

  7. Yvonne Neblett permalink
    December 20, 2023

    Absolutely marvellous photos and it’s a joy to see true spirit of Christmas being enacted!
    Wishing you and yours a happy Christmas and peaceful 2024

  8. Sue permalink
    December 20, 2023

    Am not in a Christmas-y mood but this lifts the spirits.

  9. Robin permalink
    December 20, 2023

    Lifts up the spirits to see these children. So wonderful!

  10. Mary Gillender permalink
    December 21, 2023

    My goodness they’re adorable!

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